14 juillet, Paris

HAPPY BASTILLE DAY

Happy Bastille Day! Or rather, happy 14 juillet. Because calling it Bastille Day is like wearing a neon sign that says “I’m American” on it. So from now on, please call it Le Quatorze Juillet or La Fête Nationale.

It’s been a minute (ok a lot of minutes…) since my 2014 summer in Paris, but we all wish we were there anyways, so why not pretend for a little bit?

For many years in a row, my 4th of July’s were spent far away from the US. Celebrating 14 juillet in France was the first time in a long time that I got to see fireworks in July. Plus with the whole bleu blanc rouge, it was close enough.

Now, for a little bit of history:

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, July 14th is the French national holiday. According to my trusty source (Wikipedia, lol), the holiday celebrates the storming of the Bastille in 1789 as well as the Fête de la Fédération celebrating the unity of the French people on the same date in 1790.

While definitely not as obnoxious as the American Independence Day, the French do have some yearly festivities. There’s a parade (v different from our parades), parties (v v different from day drinking on the beach), and fireworks (ok this part is p similar).

Let’s break it down:

bastille-day-defile

THE PARADE

Défilé du 14 juillet { Military Parade } The morning kicks off with a parade down Champs Elysées, but not like the 4th of July parades in any sense. There’s no high school bands marching along, no cheerleaders throwing confetti down Main Street, no local firefighters spraying water at the crowds (the firefighters celebrate in a very different way – keep reading!).

Rather, it’s a very official military parade. The president of France makes an appearance, the French “acrobatic patrol” airplanes fly over, and troops march / drive down while the crowd pretty much watches in silence. It’s a bizarre experience from an American perspective, but worth a look if you are in that part of town. If you’re farther away, make sure to check the metros, since line 1 is usually closed down the length of the parade.

Tl;dr: not the end of the world if you miss it (see dog below).

bastille-day-dog bastille-day-pompiers

THE PARTIES

Les bals des Pompiers { Firemen's Balls aka Parties in Fire Stations } Les bals des Pompiers refers to the parties thrown at various fire stations, one in almost every arrondissement, the nights of July 13th and July 14th. These parties start at around 9 pm and last until 4 am and can get pretty crazy. I didn’t go…I wasn't not sure how popular they are among local Parisians considering my host sister had no idea what we were talking about when we asked her about it. It seems like a popular event for tourists, though, and they often play American music.

Tl;dr: sounds glamorous, but basically a block party

bastille-day-fireworks-1

THE FIREWORKS

Feu d'artifice { Fireworks } The night of the 14th, everyone crowds in Champ de Mars for an outdoor concert and eventually the fireworks. The challenge, really, is getting there. The metros are a mess. Several stations are closed, they are crowded, breaking down, and announcements are mumbled (in French) quietly over the intercoms. On the streets, local authorities corral people onto side streets and close off detours as the crowds close in. But as long as you end up somewhere with a view of the Eiffel Tower, it’s worth it. Starting at 11pm, fireworks shoot out of the tower in a spectacular show that is truly a work of art. Cue the boomerangs.

Tl;dr: definitely go

Another random fun fact: each year, the holiday has a different theme. This year the theme is "Paris et les jeux Olympiques” (as an Angeleno, I’m thinking this is a pretty ballsy of them, even if Paris is the favorite for 2024). The year I was there, the theme was "Guerre et Paix," "War and Peace," to commemorate the 100th year after the start of WWI and to celebrate the French military. Slightly ironic, considering the French experience of the war, but nevertheless a fair theme. In the past, they seem to be more random, such as the theme of "Disco Years" in 2012 and "Broadway" in 2011, the most bizarre (that I've heard of thus far) being the 2005 Brazil themed celebration...because no sane country would have a different country be the theme of their national holiday. Just picture beautiful decorations in red, white and blue...and green and yellow.


Anyways, as a throwback, here’s how I spent my 14 juillet, 2014:

On the night of the 13th, we (as in my roommate and I) decided to skip the bals des pompiers. Sure, we are both super lazy who would generally choose sleep over going out. But we actually had a more valid reason for calling it a night. The World Cup Finals was that night. So we were out at a bar and too tired to even walk up the 97 steps up to the apartment much less go to a party.

Our host family was out for the weekend so it was just us. When we finally made it up the brutal stairs (seriously, drunk people would never stand a chance), we decided to celebrate being home alone in the middle of Paris by blasting Beyoncé and eating chocolate pudding (highly recommend, btw, the generic store bought tastes like heaven).

bastille-day-parade

The next morning, we woke up early and tried to go to the parade. Which ended up being a lot more challenging than anticipated. We headed over from the 1er arrondissement, which should have been an easy cruise down line 1, but ended up having to detour and walk a few blocks.

By the time we reached Champs-Elysées, there was already a crowd 4 people deep lining the streets. But we soon realized that there wasn’t all that much to see, so we just hung around the shops (many were open!).

Soon after, we had another big realization. Which was that finding public bathrooms is a dire challenge. So for anyone interested in going, I recommend you hang around near McDonald’s for the easiest access to public restrooms. We ended up in Pomme de Pain, but they only had one or two stalls so McDonalds is still your better bet. S/o to America.

In the days leading up to the holiday, it was dreary and rainy and cold. Somehow, it was like the skies new it was a big day. So a bright blue sky blanketed the city and all of Paris was bathed in warm sunlight. It was the most beautiful day.

bastille-day-view

We went back to the apartment to nap, but couldn’t even stay inside for long before wanting to head out again.

After a refreshing nap, we headed out for the Tuileries after receiving a tip from our host mom. The event she suggested had already ended, but the sunny weather made for a nice walk through the garden (with ice cream). During the summer, the Tuileries garden in front of the Louvre hosts a carnival/fair featuring various attractions, the most iconic of which is the ferris wheel that conspicuously rises above the buildings to be seen from various parts of the city.

bastille-day-statue bastille-day-carnival

The "Fête des Tuileries" attracts a lot of families during the warm days and was especially inviting on this holiday. I still prefer Jardin du Luxembourg, but the picnickers and ice cream stands won me over for the day.

bastille-day-park paris-ice-cream

After soaking up some sun in the garden, we walked over to Rue de Rivoli for some shopping before dinner. The street runs parallel to the Seine from Concorde to Saint Paul, but the main shopping area is between the Louvre and Hôtel de Ville. It’s like Paris’s Third Street Promenade, with every clothing chain imaginable. A great way to spend an afternoon…and a lot of euro.

jardin-tuileries paris-chatelet

We quickly ate dinner with our host sister before scrambling to get to the fireworks. Quite literally. We didn’t really know what was going on. As of 10:30, we were still on the metro. Our metro broke down a couple times, and announcements were mumbled over the intercom in French (do you know how difficult it is to distinguish between et (and) and a (to) in a crowded subway?!). Eventually we got off and just scrambled in the general direction of the Eiffel Tower. With the streets closed, people everywhere, and police fencing off streets, it was a miracle we even got to a viewing spot. People were crowded in the middle of the road where (from the perfect angle) you could see the tower between buildings.

It probably would have been better to camp out in Champ de Mars for the day, but oh well. Somehow, we ended up in Palais de Tokyo. With 5 minutes to spare.

bastille-day-fireworks-2 bastille-day-fireworks-3

The show was so worth it. Even though we could only see half of it from where we were standing. Still worth it.

After the fireworks, we decided that the métro was not worth braving a second time. So we walked home. Four kilometers. Took us about an hour, since it involved cutting a lot of crowds.

Concorde was felt like a crazy night market, with people, cars, bikes and motorcycles going in every direction all at the same time. Everyone was in the middle of the streets. Many people were drunk. Bottles and broken glass covered the cobblestone. People were pushing through crowds, trying to stay together with their groups, phone in one hand, cigarette in the other.

bastille-day-night bastille-day-eiffel-tower

We followed the Seine home and the crowds thinned out by the time we walked past the Tuileries. This was by far the liveliest night I experienced in Paris. Even though I was absolutely exhausted during this midnight walk, I loved seeing people out and about at night, excited and happy. I loved the street vendors selling hot dogs and crêpes and the smell of the grilled food filling the night air. I guess it reminded me of post-concert LA.

4 kilometers, 97 steps and some tip-toeing later, I postponed my last minute studying to the next morning and collapsed happily in bed. I think we did Bastille Day justice. I’d do it again.


If you’re in Paris, the official tourism site has details on events.

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